Budget update: Jan. 22, 2020

January 22, 2020

Tori Tragis

— by Dan White, chancellor

At last week’s Board of Regents’ (BOR) meeting, the board passed a resolution approving a system-level tuition increase of 5% on lower and upper division credits effective for fall 2020. As part of that discussion, the board directed $1.5 million of the projected revenue be set aside to support student scholarships. This is something we do under our current tuition model, utilizing 20% of our tuition to support student aid for recruitment and retention as well as student support and administrative services. 

UAF tuition, even with this increase, is still below the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) 2019-2020 average of $9,724 per year. The UA system average is currently $8,144 per year. The 5% increase for AY2021 will not impact graduate tuition or the non-resident surcharge rate. 

College prices vary widely, depending on the type of institution and where it is located. For this reason, there was some discussion at the BOR meeting about allowing some differentiation of tuition between universities. Under our current model, all tuition rates are the same, system wide.  Under discussion is the possibility that there would be different costs associated with, for example, a 100-level welding class offered at our Community and Technical College and a 100-level Physics class offered at our Troth Yeddha’ campus. We will conduct an analysis to be presented to President Johnsen in spring 2020 about what differential tuition rates might look like for 2022, as well as further examine student fees and our fee structure.

Over the last year, we have conducted an overhaul of our scholarship process at UAF. As part of a process improvement team (PIT) crew initiative, as well as a product of strategic enrollment planning (SEP), last month we launched Nanook Pledge, UAF’s first four-year continuous scholarship. We identified the need to provide students and their families predictable financial assistance so they can focus on their education and figured out a better way to provide that support. Under the new framework, we are awarding $1,000-$10,000 per year for four years, something that many of our competitors offer, but UAF is the first in the UA system to do so. 

There was some mention at the Board meeting and a great deal of discussion in recent months about metrics and inter-university comparisons. The University of Alaska Fairbanks is unique. The span of educational offerings from community college and rural campuses to our research university on the Troth Yeddha’ campus makes us very difficult to compare to other universities. Yet, for many reasons, we are compared to other research universities, other public universities, “peers”, sibling universities in UA, and national averages. How universities stack up depends on whether you are comparing costs or revenues and how completely you paint the picture of the role of a university with a community college and a globally important research university.

UAF research activity is disproportionately large compared with other public universities our size. This complicates comparisons based on the cost to educate a student because the revenues and expenses associated with research do not go up and down with enrollment. Growth in research that benefits the State of Alaska benefits UAF when comparisons are made to universities on a revenue basis, but hurt UAF when comparisons are made on a cost basis. On a balance sheet, spending revenues associated with growth in research appears as a growth in “cost”. Furthermore, when we analyze our revenues and costs on a per student basis, it paints an incomplete picture if not taking into account UAF’s mission responsibilities for research and public service to Alaska and Alaskans. 

UAF research brings a major revenue stream to the university and to Alaska. Research revenues, which are primarily federal, support a large portion of faculty and staff salaries and infrastructure costs. The majority of research dollars are spent locally and the benefits are local, state, national and international. UAF restricted revenue mainly sponsors research, but also supports UAF’s statewide public service mission, including Cooperative Extension and the Marine Advisory Program, as well as a variety of regional public service activities. These activities serve the state, but increase the apparent “cost” of the university. However, research and outreach are important to us as a state. Keep up the great work! 

In next week’s column I will share more on inter-university comparisons and include links to some in-depth work that our former Provost, Susan Henrichs did in this regard.

Please join me tomorrow, at our strategic planning forum. I will provide an overview of our timeline for implementation as well as exciting initiatives that are taking shape to support our goals at UAF. The forum will take place in the Wood Center Ballroom from 1-2 p.m., and will be webstreamed and captioned.

Thank you for choosing UAF.